When we took our first look at the 2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS a few months ago, our initial impressions were good. We gushed about the fit and finish, the attractive styling, the nimble handling, and the great cabin tech package. But today's automotive landscape is rapidly changing, and in the three months since our last encounter with the Elantra, we've also found ourselves behind the wheel of the new Ford Focus and the new Chevy Cruze Eco, vehicles that join the incumbent Honda Civic in the competition for buyers' C-segment dollars.
With more seat time under our belts, we take a second look at Hyundai's shot over the bow of Honda and see if some of the sheen of our first impression has worn off.
Power for the Elantra is provided by a rather pedestrian 1.8-liter engine that makes 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Although a six-speed manual transmission is available, we're sure that most examples of the Elantra--our tester included--will put power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual shift mode. No, the Elantra doesn't exactly back up its sporty windswept look with mind-blowing performance, but acceleration is adequate. When left in its automatic mode, the Elantra supposedly hits 60 mph in just a hair under 8 seconds. However, in the Shiftronic manual mode, we had the hardest time getting under the 10-second mark. That's due to the manual shift mode's habit of automatically upshifting just as we reached for the shift lever, causing us to end up a gear higher than expected. For best results, just leave the shifting to the computer.
The EPA estimates the Elantra's fuel economy at 29 city mpg and 40 mpg on the highway. However, we came nowhere near those numbers. Mixed driving kept the trip computer hovering around 25 mpg for the duration of our first tank of gas. After refueling and trying again with more highway driving in the mix, we were able to tickle, but not exceed, 32 mpg. Perhaps an instantaneous fuel economy gauge would have helped us to boost that number, but the Elantra is only equipped with an Eco light in its instrument cluster that illuminates when the driver goes easy on the throttle.
On the road, the Elantra feels like the Honda Civic used to in the '90s: making up for its notable lack of power by emphasizing lightweight, nimble handling. However, although the Elantra's handling is good, the sedan still has an economy-car feel. Its torsion-bar rear suspension doesn't stick to the road like the Civic's multi-link rear end. Over uneven pavement at highway speeds, the Elantra's front suspension soaks up bumps surprisingly well, but we were able to feel the rear end rolling over when the road got curvy. Expect the Elantra to understeer when pushed to its moderate limits before the standard stability control, traction control, and brake force distribution systems step in to keep things in line.
The Elantra's electric power steering feels a bit over-boosted, which makes it feel slightly numb for performance driving but perfect for effortless milling about town. The sedan also has a small turning radius, a valuable asset for city dwellers. When equipped with the optional rearview camera, which we'll discuss shortly, the light steering, quick turning, and small footprint make the Elantra remarkably easy to parallel park. We're thinking that most potential Elantra drivers will value the sedan's low-speed handling and manners over all-out high-speed performance.
When equipped with automatic transmission, the GLS trim level comes standard with a 172-watt six-speaker stereo system with a good mix of audio sources, including XM Satellite Radio, AM/FM terrestrial radio, a single-disc CD player with MP3 decoding capability, and USB and auxiliary inputs with iPod connectivity. In order to best use an iPod or iPhone with Hyundai's system, you'll need to drop an additional $35 on an iPod cable that simultaneously connects the iPod or iPhone to both the auxiliary and USB inputs for full-speed music library browsing. Additionally, the Elantra can be equipped with Hyundai's standard array of cabin tech options.
Unlike Hyundai's more upscale Genesis vehicles, Bluetooth connectivity isn't standard on the Elantra, but can be added as part of the $550 Preferred Equipment Package. This package adds Bluetooth hands-free calling with voice recognition and Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming. You also get larger 16-inch alloy wheels instead of hubcaps, steering-wheel audio and calling controls, and other niceties like illuminated vanity mirrors and cloth door inserts.
Also available at the 2011 GLS trim level is Hyundai's solid-state navigation system ($1,750), which places a 7-inch color touch screen centrally in the Elantra's dashboard. This system, which we've seen in previously reviewed Hyundai models, only features 2D map data, which it stores on a few gigabytes of solid-state memory. While basic in appearance, these simple maps are very easy to read at a glance. Additionally, Hyundai's turn-by-turn directions feature spoken street names, so you can spend more time watching the road instead of the screen. The navigation system taps into the Hyundai's XM Satellite Radio connection to deliver live traffic, sports scores, stock prices, and weather data to your dashboard.
Shift into reverse and a rearview camera takes over the LCD, providing a view of the road behind you. The display features distance markers, but not active trajectory lines. At this price point, that's good enough for us.
As is the case with most Hyundai vehicles we've reviewed, there isn't much more to discuss when it comes to cabin technology, but overall the package is a very good value.
A note concerning 2012 MY packages
While we were reviewing our GLS model, Hyundai's Web site silently updated its information to reflect the 2012 model--a surprising move as the 2011 sedan has only been on the road for a few months. What is interesting about the revisions in the next model year are a few major changes to the Elantra's available options at its two major trim levels.
The navigation package that made our GLS such a great tech-car value is now exclusive to the more expensive Limited trim--presumably a move to encourage buyers to step up to the upper trim level, which they may previously have perceived as more of a lateral move from a fully loaded GLS. Upgrading to the Limited trim level also nets you niceties such as illuminated turn signals in the side mirrors, fog lights, a power sunroof, and larger 17-inch wheels, and adds most of the features of the GLS' Preferred Equipment Package as standard, but it also adds about a $5,000 premium to the Elantra's MSRP before you even get the privilege of adding the Technology package.
Comparing the 2011 Hyundai Elantra with the competition from Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet is a tricky endeavor. The Elantra doesn't beat the Civic's handing, the Focus' technology, or the Cruze Eco's fuel economy. Then again, it doesn't really have to. As tested, our $19,510 Elantra GLS represents a good balance (for many, the best balance) of all of these metrics at a terrific value.
|Model||2011 Hyundai Elantra|
|Power train||1.8-liter in-line 4-cylinder, FWD|
|EPA fuel economy||29 city, 40 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||28.5 mpg|
|Navigation||optional solid-state-memory-based with XM Satellite Traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||basic voice command, phonebook sync|
|Disc player||CD/ MP3|
|MP3 player support||analog RCA auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||optional Bluetooth stereo streaming, XM Satellite Radio|
|Audio system||6-speaker standard audio|
|Driver aids||optional rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$19,510|